Long line to relaxation

July 26th, 2010

It is a bit spooky: lined up in long winding curves, small flickering lights are hanging over Beijing.

UFOs? Frozen shooting stars? Morse lightning? When you’re one or two blocks away from it, and you haven’t run into this before – you might not be able to find an explanation for it until you get closer.

Eventually though you will be standing in front of a square, usually a larger one, to which those light columns seem to be coming down on. And then you suddenly realize: Mister Li is having his leashed-up night beer.

When taking the time to sit down with him, something very rare and interesting happens: you relax.

At first the mind tries to confront the situation with logic: What on Earth is a grown-up man doing at this time of the night (9 p.m.) on the street, fiddling with kids’ toys?

And then you witness Mister Li clipping small LEDs onto the rope. And in a very skilled manner he places them almost exactly at even distance. Very seldom only does he have to get up. And then it’s usually not because he needs to correct the trajectory of his kite, but rather because he needs to help young aspirants master the first few meters into the air. And that, as it becomes apparent soon, needs quite a bit of practice.

Two hours later the total kite count above Beijing is substantially larger. It’s a windy night and Mister Li and his line-gang are well prepared. With their professional-looking reels they appear more like open sea fishermen than guys with toys.

Those very smooth-running wheels have nothing in common with the rope-around-a-piece-of-cardboard memories of Western childhoods. By the way – the line itself doesn’t either: An ultra thin, remarkably tough synthetic fibre piece which weighs almost nothing. This allows the kite to go up into the air much higher than it would be allowed in London or Berlin. But Beijing has no helicopters and therefore it’s no problem to fly a kite a few hundred meters above ground.

Being asked for the reason of sitting here, Mister Li says that this kind of evening requires kiting. A dragon night so-to-speak. And then he nods very meaningfully. Without context this sounds a little strange.

What Mister Li wants to say, is that you can play Xiang Qi (a Chinese form of chess) at any given evening. But when it has wind and it’s warm and – on top of it – a night without much smog, you just have to to go and fly a kite! How shameful to let an opportunity like this pass by.

As I gather my things to return home, Mister Li is still comfy on his folding chair, directing the kite traffic with his mates as if there were no tomorrow.

For the same time I was sitting next to him, I could have watched a movie at home on the couch. But somehow you’re not half as relaxed after a Hollywood flick as you are after flying kites with Mister Li. And it’s not the Chinese beer that’s responsible for this. Rather, it’s the down-to-earth and calm atmosphere. Sometimes even in Li country less is more

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